We all want our guitars to sound big, wide and powerful. Weather it be you’re making the next rock and roll cult hit or recording an acoustic folk tune, having a huge guitar sound that may spray all over the stereo field can have a huge impact on the listener and a huge emotional impact on the song.
1. Less Is More
When layering up guitar tracks, people tend to mindlessly jump in and layer track upon track of rough power chords, etc. This process usually causes the end product to sound like a wall of white noise and sound roughly making up the notes of the song. This causes the guitars to all sound weak and thin and just not emotionally powerful at all.
One well played guitar track with the right tones dialed in will sound so much better and huger than 6 roughly played guitar tracks. Less really is more. Take the band Nirvana for example. They were a three piece band so only drums, bass, guitar and vocals could be played all at one time when they were playing live. But the guitars still sounded huge. This was because the guitar was very well played, it had the right tones dialed in and it was miced up in a way that made the guitar sound huge. Also there was very well written and played drum and bass parts which filled out the rest of the frequency spectrum. The same goes for the band Cream. Another 3 piece band. But famous for really huge tones, not because there was 10+ guitar tracks, but because the few guitar parts were played amazingly with the right tones dialed in.
2. Double Tracking
“Hey Evan, what’s double tracking?” Double tracking is when you overdub a duplicate track on top of another, for example, vocal or guitar track. This usually happens when someone wants a wide guitar track, they would record the take, then record a second take, and pan each take hard left and right. This technique works great for acoustic guitars. In the song Horizon by Daft Punk, the intro has a double tracked acoustic guitar panned hard left and right. It gives the illusion of a single, really wide stereo guitar track. It also works good on clean electric guitars. Personally, I only do this hard left and right double tracking when there is not too much going on in a mix. I would mainly do it for intros or intermissions of songs or whatever but if there is a chorus part with loads of elements I would usually strip that double tracked part back to a single mono track and let other elements fit and breath in the stereo field.
3. Dialing In The Right Guitar Tones
Lots of people just want to jump straight in and lay down another guitar track, but this can lead to a mess and a wall of white noise like I mentioned in point 1. It is important to dial in the proper powerful guitar tone you need before recording. Doing this will beat a million years of EQ work later on inside your DAW. Be careful not to dial in too many highs on your guitar amp. At first you get this feeling of brightness and presence but it is just a temporary illusion. Too many highs can contribute to that awful wall of noise that you don’t want associated with your guitar tone. Give the mid range a chance. This is where your guitars thrive and where your guitars sound truly huge. Also, if you have an in built drive setting on your amp or a distortion pedal, try dialing in a tiny bit of distortion to it can get that gritty huge sound that will cut through the mix later. Just as saturation, nothing too crazy. Try it out and see what works best for you.
4. Layering Different Tones
Like I said before, mindlessly layering up loads of guitar tracks will sound lifeless and weak. It surprises me how many people just add a second, third, or fourth guitar track, not with the intention of double tracking, just with the exact same settings and tone, expecting a huge sound. If you’re going to do any layering at all, do it once and do it right. Just two well sculpted, healthy guitar tones will sound huge compared to 4 or 5 duplicates all panned center. While layering these two tones, try play the guitar part the very same, and try panning them both the exact same degree, so it’s like one guitar is playing. This won’t make your guitar sound wide but it will help it sound huge, rich and colorful.
Achieve different tones by using different string, different guitar, different pedals, different amp settings, different amp, different mic placement, different mic, etc. Also, if you played the original guitar with a pick, try doing the second part with your fingers, or vise versa. Also you could try varying the chords a small bit. Just experiment, and see what works well.
5. Overdub An Acoustic Guitar
This is not a very common move, but it works very well. It works on basically every genre from hard rock to pop music. Just simply overdub a clean acoustic guitar over your original guitar track with the same chords. Also, pan the acoustic and level it to blend in with the original guitar and becomes an expansion of it. This acoustic guitar will add fullness and brightness and natural harmonic brilliance to your guitar. I usually use a generous amount of compression to this overdubbed acoustic to let the brightness shine through on the final mix.
So in conclusion, I hope this article has enlightened you on how to get a huge guitar sound in your mixes. Use this knowledge I have given you today and experiment with these techniques and see what works well in your mix.
Thank you for reading.
Look forward to more mixing tips soon.
Have a nice day.